Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Three songs


"Calamity Song", by The Decemberists.

This is perhaps the least representative song on their new album, and it doesn't include what, for me, is the record's main drawcard, viz., the backing vocals of Gillian Welch. What it does have is Peter Buck on guitar, and, for all of the band's protestations that they weren't going for an REM sound as much as a "Peter Buck" sound, this song carries REM's DNA right down to its bootstraps. The vocal phrasing has more than a fleeting nod to Michael Stipe. The song itself is straight out of the "Fables of the Reconstruction" playbook. And it carries the listener along with the same sense of sweeping exhilaration that REM, once upon a time, did like nobody else (think "Driver 8").


"Biking Up The Strand", by Peter Baumann. (Click to play; right click to download.)

If I were ever to do another radio show (I won't), this would be the opening track each week. At least, until I got sick of it. Which isn't likely to happen any time soon. A lost gem of (although not really "of") the post-punk era.


"Limit To Your Love", by James Blake.

It's difficult to know what to make of the self-titled debut album by James Blake. It has been the centre of such a media shitstorm in the UK, and a lightning rod for so many divergent (and vehement) opinions, that it is probably going to take a while to assess it on its own terms. (It seems from this distance like half of London wants to put him on a pedestal and the other half wants to tear him limb from limb.) And it's true that releasing this song, a cover of the much-loved Feist original (from the thinking person's mother's-day present of 2008), as a teaser for the album was always going to be an accident waiting to happen, whether Blake knew it (unleashing his inner McLaren, perhaps) or not (the latter being more likely, I suspect).

It seems to me that the album is being subjected to much more weight than it was ever intended to carry. When you consider how different the album is from the EPs that preceded it, and how different the EPs were from each other, the picture is that of an exceptionally talented young artist trying on different clothes in an effort to figure out which ones suit him best, and this album is merely the most recent of those changes of clothing.

I deliberately avoided hearing the song until I could listen to it in the context of the album, but, even so, "Limit To Your Love", which sits literally and figuratively at the centre of the record, burns so bright that it sucks all of the air out of everything around it. (When the dub(step) drops, you realise you are witnessing something special.) It will take some time for it to find its place, but time is something that this album has on its side.